- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Northern Ireland's marching season when partisan parades often cause riots is around the corner. Police have been on full alert after the detonator to a 150-pound bomb exploded outside Northern Ireland's main prison. IRA dissidents have been exporting terrorism to their terrorist friends in Columbia. The pro-British Unionists complain that policing morale is low. Amid all the bad news for Ulster's security, the new North-South Policing agreement released April 29 is a testimony to the fact that the peace process will go on, with or without those who would like to wreck it.

The agreement, which was signed by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland John Reid and the Irish Justice Minister John O'Donoghue, calls for cooperation between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, First Minister David Trimble said in an interview in Washington recently, they failed to consult with the Ulster Unionist Party on the content of the agreement, though it was the party's responsibility to ensure that the reforms are accepted within its constituency.

For many years, Catholics in Northern Ireland viewed the Northern Ireland police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), as a partisan, pro-British force which targeted Catholics unjustly. The policing agreement comes as a result of reforms, called for by the Good Friday peace accord and carried out by a policing commission under the leadership of Chris Patten. The plan would allow officers to move between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and Ireland's Garda Siochana on both a temporary and permanent basis. It would allow them to meet at an annual conference, plan for disasters together and investigate crimes together. With controversial items such as Northern Ireland's police force uniform and symbols now agreed upon, the policing commission has been given the opportunity to focus on the modalities of cooperation.

In doing so, the commission cannot forget the parties who signed the Good Friday accord in the first place. Mr. Trimble, who is also the leader of the pro-British Ulster Unionists, said that he was extremely surprised to see the agreement come out without consultation with his party, and has filed a letter of complaint. The British government claims most of the information in the agreement was public knowledge. This oversight on the part of the governments could be especially inflammatory for a party that has made many concessions to enable the peace process to move forward.

Northern Ireland has come a long way since the Good Friday accord of 1998. The policing agreement provides a way for the process of unification to keep moving forward. Now is not the time to cut the people of Ulster out of the agreements that affect their daily safety.


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